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How Well do Christian Publishers Know Their Audience?

Jeff Crosby, CEO of the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association, shared a powerful insight with Publishers Weekly in an April 2022 article titled How Religion Publishing Became a Billion-Dollar Industry:

Publishers need to meet readers where they are, 

not where they wish they are.

His prescient observation punctuated one of the article’s main points, that Christian publishers must now seriously consider “the views of readers who are increasingly detached from traditional theology and church affiliation.”

Much of the PW article focused on the challenges Christian publishers have encountered and overcome in the last 25 years, particularly the effects of consolidation and product distribution. It was an interesting look back, with a mild celebratory tone, for an industry segment that has become a 1-billion-dollar player in the business.

Jeff Crosby’s quote, however, made me think about the next 25 years. Specifically, how Christian publishers can “meet readers where they are.” Industry consolidation and distribution challenges are one thing, but creating products that audiences find inspiring, compelling, utilitarian in their daily lives, and most importantly, worthy of recommending to friends and family … that’s a different challenge altogether.

How do you meet readers where they are? How do you measure their preferences and assess their sentiments? Can you with any degree of accuracy predict their likelihood to buy, use, and recommend your book (or product) to their personal and professional networks?  

Since Grandview is in the business of meeting (engaging) readers where they are, these are questions we address every day. The tools we use include interactive surveys, pre-publication product reviews, customer insights panels, and virtual focus groups. AI plays a role here too, but that’s another blog.

Like any good builder with a toolbox, however, you don’t use exactly the same tools for every product. The way you use the tools make a big difference too. Not all surveys, product reviews, insights panels, and virtual focus groups are created equal. Each product needs a specific plan.

Grandview highly recommends that publishers have a playbook for every product. It’s not as difficult or time-consuming as some publishers might imagine, but often it requires the publishing team to reframe their thinking a bit.

The playbooks we help our clients develop and execute begin with three things that serve to reframe the way publishing teams think about their product and their audiences. Once developed, the playbook includes internal workflows with timelines and swim lanes for authors, editors, and your marketing and promotion team.

When introducing our concept of a Playbook to new clients here are the slides we use to get the ball rolling:

The Design Thinking process baked into the product playbook can appear messy at first glance because each step of the process is itself iterative and non-linear. Ultimately, a product playbook, and the process of developing it, fosters innovation and agility. It touches internal and external stakeholders. Most importantly, it helps publishers meet their audiences where they are and use their collective intelligence and insights to produce products that are more compelling, useful, and likely to be recommended.


David Brake is the founder and CEO of The Grandview Group, a consulting firm that helps organizations engage their stakeholders and elevate impact. We would love to talk with you about how your organization is engaging stakeholders and elevating impact.

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